REVIEW SUMMARY: Irreverent and violent, the latest feature from Marvel overcomes glaring shortcomings with wit, humor, and no small amount of bloodshed.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A rogue experiment to turn ordinary individuals into mutants transforms ex-Special Forces operative Wade Wilson into renegade antihero Deadpool.
PROS: Often very funny screenplay by Paul Wernick and Rhett Rheese; energetic direction by Tim Miller; strong cast.
CONS: Too many structural and storytelling issues that cannot be hidden by the relentless humor; amateurishness quality to overall production.
Derek Austin Johnson: Before I accepted the invitation to the press screening of Deadpool, I possessed no knowledge of either the character or the blood-soaked, sarcastic, scatological world in which he existed. To say director Tim Miller’s feature about the irreverent superhero, a kind of cross between the Punisher, Daredevil, and Eric Cartman, caught me off guard would be akin to calling Marco Rubio’s debate performance in the New Hampshire Republican debate a tad mechanical. No, Deadpool surprised and disoriented me in so many ways that I have to bring in up-and-coming writer and critic Xander Johnson (yes, your stalwart critic engages in nepotism when it suits his purposes) to give me some background about Marvel’s newest…“hero.” I had never heard of Deadpool; his knowledge of the character turns out to be deep and wide. God help us all.
Xander Johnson: Ryan Reynolds’ portrayal of our titular mercenary is a brilliant modern art masterpiece that is both satire and avant garde while maintaining the spirit of Deadpool’s comic counterpart. Reynolds’ and Tim Miller’s collaborative efforts drive home a crucial point about the character and the universe he lives in: the blatant disregard for the fourth wall that Deadpool flaunts in the faces of his audience almost renders a comparison between his comic-to-film transition a fallacy. With a wink in his eye and an extended middle finger towards the fans, Reynolds shatters the expectations that the audience has had for comic book movies; vulgarity becomes a form of artistic expression, with a gory spectacle and a cacophony of gunfire.
DAJ: Reynolds not only breaks the fourth wall but demolishes it with a wrecking ball and pulverizes it with cannon fire, as if in a dubious gentleman’s agreement with Tim Miller and screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Rheese. Consider the opening sequence: in achingly slow motion, car glass shatters and blood splatters during Deadpool’s opening kill against Ajax (Ed Skrein) and his cadre of soldiers of fortune while Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” plays and the credits roll…and even here, the credits introduce not the actors but adjectives marinated in snark and roasted on a spit. It catches us off guard, causing us to laugh in spite of ourselves. And this self-knowledge extends to the dialogue. When Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) attempts to stop Deadpool’s crimson-drenched, Peckinpah-esque orgy of destruction, he grabs the back of Deadpool’s costume to take him to Professor Charles Xavier. “Stewart or MacAvoy?” he asks.
XJ: In keeping with the essence of the comics, despite the psychotic extravaganza we behold, Deadpool’s humor doesn’t come crashing down like a baseball bat, but rather slices with the precision of a scalpel. The laughs and gags are smoothly choreographed; every joke and reference land with the grace of Swan Lake, and not one step out of line. Steady as a surgeon the whole way through, the laughs cannot be attributed just to Reynolds’ portrayal of Deadpool, but also to those who have had the misfortune of associating with the merc’ with a mouth. T. J. Miller’s Weasel, Deadpool’s geographically convenient best friend and arm’s dealer, is the straight man of this farce, forced to bare witness to the almost biblical chaos perpetuated by his masked friend. Miller plays the role with a cynicism so thick and rich it could be served with pancakes. Geekdom’s sweetheart Morena Baccarin plays Vanessa Carlysle, Deadpool’s love interest and female counterpart. Their relationship is less Bogart and Bergman and more Bonnie and Clyde, a match made in a heaven where gender roles go to die (the nail in the coffin being a particular scene in which Baccarin takes a strap-on to Reynolds). Other notable roles are Leslie Uggams as Blind Al, Deadpool’s vision-impaired, elderly, and often abused roommate, and Karan Soni’s Dupinder, Deadpool’s taxi driver whose life is invariably ruined simply because he shares the same universe with Deadpool.
DAJ: Director Miller chose his cast wisely, and obviously they enjoy themselves. Gina Carano, as Angel Dust, fulfills the promise we saw in Steven Soderberh’s thriller Haywire, delivering a strong fight sequence with Kapicic near the movie’s climax. And even then, Tim Miller keeps things deft, as when Colossus shields the audience from Angel Dust’s inadvertent wardrobe malfunction. Unfortunately, for all of the things Deadpool gets right, it suffers significant structural flaws. Though often clever (as when Wilson begins a monologue within a flashback occurring within another flashback), the screenplay focuses too heavily on the character’s origin—not bad in itself, but Wernick and Rheese protract it when brevity would have suited the story better. Often they splice flashbacks into the middle of the action, breaking up the flow of the sequences. Reynolds’s snarky delivery and director Miller’s energetic pace often distract attention from these faults, but not fully. And the pace, already zipping past the audience like Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang in Bullitt, sometimes causes a kind of viewer whiplash; a measured scene or two would have served the movie better.
XJ: On the technical side, Deadpool certainly feels like an amateur endeavor. The juxtaposition of the comparably muted fight for survival of the flashback, and the Looney Tunes–style escapades of the present do not intermingle. While the movie arms the flashbacks with their own sense of black humor, their tone is dissonant from what we expect from the comics to such a degree that the final product suffers. As stated before, the film focuses on Deadpool’s origin when the carnage hits its peak, damaging fluidity and immersion. For all of Deadpool’s faults, however, Tim Miller understands the chaotic immortal and the universe that’s exposed to him perfectly, and delivers a product that ultimately hits all the marks that any proud Deadpool fan would be looking for.
DAJ: It’s hard for me to read the words “proud Deadpool fan” without smirking. Often one assumes Deadpool’s target audience inhabits the darker corners of Reddit, or perhaps the sunnier side of the deep web. It certainly redeems Ryan Reynolds, who finally receives the comic book movie franchise denied him by Green Lantern. That may prove a negative in the long run; this kind of satiric energy and bits of the old ultraviolence never sustained RoboCop beyond one movie. I don’t know that I want a series of Deadpool movies, but I’ll take this one, if only because it stands the traditional superhero movie on its severed head.